Much has been written about millennials. They are entitled. They are fickle. They are sell-outs. At times, these are described as their good traits.
Regardless of how you feel about millennials, however, they are coming of age, entering the workforce and will eventually become our future business leaders and managers. Because of this, older generations of managers (myself included) need to better understand what makes millennials tick.
One company who has looked into millennial motivation is The Go Game, a cutting edge team and culture-building business. Since 2001, The Go Game has run over 12,000 activities (games) for over 1.5 million players in over 25 countries, with clients that include Facebook, Netflix, Google and Johnson and Johnson.
Through these experiences, the company has witnessed the business cultural evolution of companies around the world, from small startups to multinational corporations. One of the most recognizable shifts is due in large part to millennials slowly saturating the workplace and hitting their stride professionally.
In 2015, The Go Game polled their numerous clients to better understand this cultural evolution. What they found was many more millennials (79 percent), aged 21 to 30, found “team” or “culture” building activities in their organization significantly helped retain talent, while only 46 percent of baby boomers (aged 51-60) felt the same. Asked if team building was worth the time and effort, 88 percent of the millennial employees responded positively versus just 76 percent of boomers.
According to Jenny Gottstein, director of games at The Go Game and a millennial herself, these numbers, plus the company’s anecdotal experiences and data in the field, suggest a generational shift that prioritizes fun in the workplace.
“As a millennial, a person who manages a team of millennials and a game designer who has produced over 400 interactive experiences for millennials,” Gottstein explains, “I have discovered a number of key strategies that companies are using to successfully build millennial-friendly cultures and retain top talent.”
1. Be liberal with trust, autonomy and creative freedom.
Millennials seek job environments where they are trusted by their supervisors and given the creative freedom and flexibility to make decisions and find their own path to success. Millennials are not drawn to instructions like those found with Ikea furniture — just give them the plywood, glue, a vision and a due date.
Also, one myth that should be dispelled about millennials is that they hop from job to job, because they are aimless or disloyal. Indeed, they do change jobs more often than most, but in most cases, it is because they are impatient with systems that stifle their ability to innovate, be empowered and ultimately stay happy. Gottstein attributes the fact that she has stayed with The Go Game for almost six years (a long time by millennial standards) because her bosses trust and provide her with a space to be creative and grow.
For millennials, “micromanaging” is one of the biggest factors for pushing millennials to leave an organization. They prefer to learn the hard way, through trial and error, rather than by rules and guidelines that stifle motivation. Gottstein’s advice is to allow millennials to fail a few times on less significant projects so they are ready and can soar on the important ones.
Lastly, millennials have bursts of creative energy at strange times, especially when no one is looking. Whether it is early in the morning or late at night, millennials need a workplace that encourages brilliant work at any time.
In the end, managers need to trust millennials, give them the flexibility to perform in a way that optimizes their skills and allow them the creative space to get the job done on their own terms.
2. Provide frequent feedback.
This need for freedom and autonomy often results in the assumption that millennials lack accountability. This is misguided, as the two are not mutually exclusive. While millennials may crave freedom, they also want to know how they are performing. Being evaluated on — as well as held accountable for — specific ideas and execution is critical for development. Managers need to learn how to provide feedback, both good and bad, as their millennial staff matures.
Like any good feedback, managers should not “sugar coat” feedback, but it does need to be constructive. For best results, managers should find ways to assure millennials that they are still a trusted and valued member of the team — then point them in the right direction. The worse thing managers can do is to micromanage a poorly performing millennial.
Empower them, respect them, give them guidance and a high-five — and you stand a good chance of retaining very productive millennials.
3. Avoid the bullshit.
Millennials have a very low tolerance for inauthenticity. They value colleagues that treat each other with respect, and they gravitate towards supervisors who are relatable and accessible.
How do you measure bullshit? According to Gottstein, it is simple. If you are going to reference pop culture in order to relate to your millennial employees, just make sure you actually know what you are talking about. If you are simply out of touch with millennial culture, embrace that and just be yourself. Never try too hard to impress people. Just remember: Most millennials would rather work with Dwight Schrute than Michael Scott (there is no shame in having to look up that reference).
4. Emphasize relationships more than structure.
Find ways to reduce distance between millennials and their coworkers and supervisors, both physically (open office plans over cubicles) and socially (more one-on-one, social and team building events). Millennials like to build strong interpersonal relationships, so find ways to dismantle unnecessary barriers and create opportunities for employees to make meaningful connections.
5. Make it fun.
All of these factors are grounded in the fact that millennials prioritize fun in the workplace. They view their jobs often as an extension of their social community and even their identity at times. Millennials do not have to be best friends with their colleagues, but it certainly does not hurt. Companies like Eventbrite, Facebook, Atlassian, Google, Lyft and more are all doing innovative and creative things to create cultures that embrace fun — and their talent retention demonstrates the effectiveness of this strategy.
Interestingly, more companies are leveraging the power of play to recruit and engage millennials. In recent years, The Go Game has seen an increase in inquiries around training games and applied play, including leadership training games, disaster preparedness and mindfulness games. It is clear that more and more companies are adopting a strategy of play as a tool for personal and professional development.
Some business managers may grunt, complain and fail to see this cultural evolution created by millennials entering the workplace as a positive shift, but I believe we should embrace it. And while millennials may indeed be woven from a different cloth — and to a great extend misunderstood — I think we can all agree that a little more fun in the workplace would do everyone some good.
By Peter Gasca